congo mapFree the Slaves joined 22 other organizations this week urging U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to appoint a new special envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The U.S. “has played an increasingly central role in addressing one of the most enduring and serious humanitarian and human rights crises in the world,” the letter notes. “Much, however, remains to be done.”

The U.S. appointed former Sen. Russell Feingold as special envoy in 2013, and he’s been regarded by human rights groups as a successful diplomat. He is stepping down soon.

“According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 2.7 million people remain displaced in Congo,” the letter to Secretary Kerry notes. “Thousands of civilians have been killed in massacres, and women and girls have suffered horrific levels of rape and sexual violence.

“A poorly regulated trade in minerals—a trade that links the Congo to consumers in the United States—allows armed groups to extort funds and abuse civilians,” the letter adds. FTS research has exposed widespread slavery at Congo mining sites. Profits from these mines fuels the ongoing conflict.

“As Special Envoy Feingold steps down, we urge the administration to continue the good work of that office and to build on its achievements through the rapid appointment of a new high-level envoy with a strong staff (and financial support),” the letter concludes. “With such an envoy in place, the U.S. will continue to be uniquely positioned to…ensure that peace, stability, respect for human rights and rule of law take hold in this strategic and vital region.”

See the full letter here.

Read more about slavery and Congo conflict minerals here.

It’s Our Birthday – FTS Turns 15 Today!

The FTS team, September 2014

The FTS team, October 2014

The Free the Slaves founders will tell you that people thought they were nuts. Most Americans learned in school that slavery ended with the Civil War.

Sure, there are exploited workers in the world today, the founders would hear, but surely it wasn’t slavery. The crime of slavery is a thing of the past.

But over the past 15 years, Free the Slaves has successfully alerted the world that slavery still exists. People are still forced to work, without pay, under threat of violence, and they cannot walk away. In many places, slavery never went away.

Free the Slaves was born on March 2, 2000, in the early days of the new millennium, dedicated to alerting the world about slavery’s global comeback and to catalyzing a resurgence of the abolition movement. Slavery has been outlawed everywhere, but it has not been eradicated. Free the Slaves exists to help finish the work that earlier generations of abolitionists started.

We help those in slavery escape the brutality of bondage. We help prevent others from becoming trapped by traffickers. We help officials bring slave holders to justice. We help survivors restore their dignity, rebuild their lives, and reclaim the future for themselves, their families and their communities.

Slavery will end when businesses clean-up their supply chains and consumers demand slavery-free products, when governments and international institutions toughen enforcement and fund anti-slavery work worldwide, and when activists and advocates educate the vulnerable about their rights and empower those in slavery to take a stand for freedom.

Free the Slaves is making that happen. We are building a world without slavery by demonstrating that ending slavery is possible.

There will be more news about our 15th anniversary later this year. But the news today is: THANK YOU!

Thank you to all who have contributed their energy, enthusiasm, insight, time and money over the past 15 years to making Free the Slaves one of the world’s leading anti-slavery organizations. Together, we have helped thousands move from slavery to freedom — and we’ve prevented thousands more from falling into slavery in the first place.

Nobody thinks we’re nuts anymore.

End Modern Slavery Initiative LogoOne of the biggest challenges facing the anti-slavery movement is a lack of funding. The amount of money dedicated by governments worldwide to enforcing anti-slavery laws and protecting those at risk of enslavement is just a small fraction of the billions in annual profits raked in by traffickers every year.

Two U.S. senators this week unveiled a new plan to change that. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) have introduced the End Slavery Initiative Act. (See news coverage here).

Highlights of the bill, according to Sen. Corker’s website:

Establishing The End Modern Slavery Initiative Foundation: The legislation, similar to the establishment of the National Endowment for Democracy, will authorize a 501(c)(3) non-profit grant-making foundation in the District of Columbia to be known as “The End Modern Slavery Initiative Foundation” that will fund programs and projects outside the United States that must:

  • Contribute to the freeing and sustainable recovery of victims of modern slavery, prevent individuals from being enslaved, and enforce laws to punish individual and corporate perpetrators of modern slavery.
  • Set clear, defined goals and outcomes that can be empirically measured; and
  • Achieve a measurable 50 percent reduction of modern slavery in targeted populations.

Funding: The initiative will seek to raise $1.5 billion, more than 80 percent of which will come through matching funds from the private sector and foreign governments. Sources of funding are as follows:

  • $251 million in authorized funds from the United States over eight years: $1 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, followed by authorizations of $35.7 million in FY 2016-2022.
  • $500 million from other foreign governments. (Double the investment of U.S. funds.)
  • $750 million in private funding. (Triple the investment of U.S. funds.)

U.S. funds must be matched by $500 million from foreign governments and $250 million from the private sector. The remaining $500 million will be raised by The End Modern Slavery Initiative Foundation from additional private sector contributions. The U.S. government will channel diplomatic support and additional resources for law enforcement, rule of law, economic development and training assistance in support of The End Modern Slavery Initiative.

Free the Slaves is supporting the initiative.

“On behalf of Free the Slaves, I write to express our gratitude for your leadership in sponsoring the End Modern Slavery Initiative,” FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg wrote in a letter to Sen. Corker. “This proposed legislation holds the promise of greatly accelerating progress against the scourge of modern day slavery. If adopted, it would amplify U.S. leadership in bringing freedom to those now in bondage and strengthening the ability of at-risk communities to resist sex trafficking and forced labor.”

The initiative is also being supported by the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST).

“The U.S. government has a long history of funding domestic and international programs that combat modern slavery,” said ATEST Director Melysa Sperber. “The End Modern Slavery Initiative Act is a significant step forward to eradicating this heinous crime.”

Free the Slaves is a founding member of ATEST, and FTS Programs Director Karen Stauss joined in praising the bill.

“The resources devoted by governments and the private sector to fighting human trafficking pale in comparison to the severity of the problem,” Stauss said. “The End Modern Slavery Initiative promises to create new momentum by attracting significant new resources, within a framework that creates accountability for real results.”

See the full ATEST statement here.

The bipartisan initiative, officially sponsored by Sen. Corker, currently has 12 cosponsors, seven Republicans and five Democrats.

Businesses Can Help End Slavery

karen at green biz forum 2015 2

Karen Stauss at GreenBiz Forum | Photo FTS/Hogan

Question: what’s an anti-slavery activist doing at an environmental sustainability conference for businesses? Answer: getting the same corporations that are helping to protect air, water, wildlife and natural resources around the globe to also protect the world’s most exploited people—those trapped in modern-day slavery.

FTS Director of Programs Karen Stauss told business leaders last week at the GreenBiz Forum in Phoenix that American corporations can make a substantial difference in eradicating slavery.

The annual convention brings together industry leaders, members of major environmental groups and business executives to tackle the latest trends, challenges and opportunities in sustainable business. But more and more companies are also expressing interest in ending their role in supporting slave labor.

The Free the Slaves mission to end slavery intersects with sustainable business goals by empowering companies to erase slavery from their production chains.

“The slavery that we are working on ending sometimes touches multinational supply chains,” Stauss said. “When forced labor happens to connect to multinational supply chains, that’s when we get involved with businesses, and that why we are at the conference.”

To combat the growing problem of slavery, it’s vital for companies to work together in creating a transparency about where their supplies come from, said Stauss.

“Collaboration within the industry is absolutely essential to get the leverage and to learn from each other about what works,” she said. “Ingenuity and innovation can get us there.”

One crucial way businesses can help end slavery is by being involved in drafting governmental legislation and initiatives. For example, Stauss pointed to the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, which went into effect in 2012. The legislation—which was supported by several large retailers and manufacturers—requires companies to report on specific actions they’re taking to eradicate slavery and trafficking in their supply chains.

“Although the ultimate responsibility lies with the government, not the companies, businesses can make a difference by being involved with legislation,” Stauss said. “I think that those types of initiatives are so much better when companies are behind them and designing them.”

Many companies and corporations are reluctant to try to combat slave labor because they don’t understand the “business reason” for getting involved, said Todd Brady, the global environmental manager for Intel.

Intel has improved visibility of its production supply chain. It has also been proactive in avoiding “conflict minerals” from Africa, which are often tied to slavery at mines. Years ago, however, Brady and other Intel executives felt the issue was too big to address.

“I stand here to tell you I was wrong. We were self-defeating to say the issue was too big,” Brady told the forum. “As the industry got involved, we took steps to combat the problem.”

Some business leaders may not be aware that the products they sell, or the components and raw materials inside their products, are often tainted by slavery. While slavery may not be a legal issue for these businesses to solve, it is always a moral one, said Stauss.

“When there is a company several steps away from the supply chain, those companies are not legally responsible for the abuse,” Stauss said. “But all of us are responsible to some degree for it, even the consumers. It’s still a shared responsibility for all of us.”

Learn more about product supply chain transparency in the FTS video Becoming A Slavery-Free Business.

Learn about efforts in Congress to require corporate transparency and accountability on the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) website.

 

Cassie and Jordan TimpyYou probably don’t know them, but FTS supporters will know their work. They are Cassie and Jordan Timpy, a couple from Washington who describe themselves as “passionate visual storytellers who will travel to the ends of the earth to capture life’s joys and sorrows.”

Cassie has produced many of the videos you’ve seen from FTS in the past two years. Now she and Jordan are departing on an ambitious year-long journey that includes filming slavery survivors and anti-slavery activists in Nepal, India, Congo and Ghana.

“We recently feel called to donate our skills for a greater purpose, and so we have decided to take a leap of faith this year,” they explain on their website, Agape Visuals.

Jordan and Cassie are driven by a deep spiritual sense of service. Their films portray the inner dignity of people caught in inhuman circumstance.

FTS is incredibly grateful that the Timpys have chosen us as one of the organizations that will benefit from their year of traveling to difficult and dangerous places to capture the story of people overcoming adversity.

Keep an eye on the FTS blog and our Facebook page for updates and films!